Kim Reynolds Pauses Invest in Iowa Act Program for the Second Time


Via Flickr

Nicole Welle | January 11, 2021

Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Thursday that she is once again pausing the Invest in Iowa Act, a proposal that would fund environmental and mental health programs, due to the effects of COVID-19 on the economy.

Reynolds originally shelved the proposal late last session after the COVID-19 pandemic first disrupted the economy. She said that the program’s one-cent sales tax increase would be ill-advised during a time of economic uncertainty, and she still holds that view. Reynolds has said that she would rather follow up on tax cuts made in 2018 so Iowans can “keep more of their hard-earned money” and cited concerns about the pandemic’s effect on employment and the economy, according to an Iowa Capital Dispatch article.

The Iowa Capital Dispatch previously reported that lawmakers from both parties have opposed the plan, so the Invest in Iowa Act is likely to stall without major revisions if Reynolds ever decides to act on it in the future. Some Republican lawmakers have discussed adjusting tax breaks to create funds for some of the work outlined in the act, but the Invest in Iowa act’s future is unclear.

Reynolds’ original Invest in Iowa proposal would have funded Iowa’s Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund and improved the state’s mental health programs, and reductions in income and property taxes would have offset the one-cent sales tax increase. Iowa voters overwhelmingly approved the trust fund in 2010 and hoped that it would help to solve Iowa’s water quality issues caused by agricultural runoff and other pollution. However, it is in desperate need of funding as the sales tax increase required to fund it has never reached the debate floor.

The Invest in Iowa plan would have created $171 million a year for water quality, outdoor recreation, and conservation projects. It also would have allowed counties to shift mental health funding from local property taxes to the sales tax. However, Reynolds did not discuss alternative sources of funding for water quality or conservation projects when she announced that she would pause the program on Thursday, and she said that she is currently looking for alternative sustainable funding for mental health services.

Lead in School Drinking Water: Opportunities for Improving Public Health in Iowa’s Schools


With permission from Amina Grant

Thomas Robinson | December 15th, 2020

In a legislative presentation Tuesday morning, David Cwiertny, Director of CHEEC, and Dr. Michelle Scherer, a professor at the University of Iowa, presented their work on lead in Iowa’s drinking water. 

CHEEC, the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination, has worked with schools around the state to assess the amount of lead in drinking water through their Grants to Schools program.  The program provides $10,000 for schools to sample every drinking water outlet, and then take steps to address any potential lead or copper contamination.  On average, they’ve found it only takes $2,800 for testing and remediation suggesting that more can be done for Iowa’s schools without breaking the bank.  Cwiertny emphasized the large cost to benefit ratio seen for lead interventions, where for every $1 invested there is around a $10 benefit.  Unfortunately, COVID-19 has created concerns about school drinking water as stagnation can increase lead and copper levels in drinking water. As schools begin to operate drinking fountains again there may be an increased chance for lead and copper exposure.

Dr. Michelle Scherer discussed her research group’s efforts to test drinking water from both municipal systems, as well as private wells in Iowa.  Recent work by graduate students Amina Grant, and Danielle Land has found that some Iowans are potentially being exposed to lead in their drinking water.  Shockingly, they found that potentially 65,000 Iowans had drinking water that exceeded the EPA action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb).  Dr. Scherer’s take-away message was that we need to know more about the challenge facing Iowa.  She emphasized that in home lead and copper testing needs to be more prevalent and available to properly evaluate the issue. Similarly to work being done in Illinois, Iowa needs to map lead service lines (LSLs) so that consumers can be made aware of potential exposures. Currently the Center for Disease Control (CDC) suggests that public health interventions need to happen at 5 microgram per deciliter blood lead levels in children and Dr. Scherer suggested that in the face of recent work these interventions should happen at lower blood lead levels. To better address the lead challenge facing Iowa both speakers stressed the importance of filter first legislation that could help reduce lead exposure in children.

Children are particularly vulnerable to lead as there is no safe level of exposure without potential health risks.  In Iowa, 1 in 5 newborns have elevated blood lead levels, and there is no difference between rural and urban populations.  Traditionally, lead is thought to come from paints, air, and soils, however, it is becoming more apparent that drinking water is a prevalent source for lead exposure.  Lead in drinking water is difficult to control and regulate since most contamination comes from the distribution system and not providers.  Currently, there are many different guidelines and regulations for lead contamination. Unfortunately, Iowa is on the back end where water outlets are taken out of service only if lead levels exceed 20 ppb, which is 4 times the level accepted for bottled water (5 ppb).  Iowa needs a health based lead regulation that can be used by consumers to evaluate whether their drinking water is safe, and it isn’t unreasonable for a low level like 1 ppb to be the goal.

Next Steps For Addressing Climate Change Could Be Learned From COVID-19


Via Flickr

Thomas Robinson | November 3rd, 2020

Action is needed to mitigate the coming climate crisis.  In a recent post from Yale Climate Connections (YCC), four experts emphasize lessons from the current pandemic that could prove important for the climate crisis.

 A key component preventing immediate climate action is the amount of uncertainty associated with climate science.  Not that the message of climate change is uncertain, but that the science supporting climate conclusions relies on models and predictions that include an element of risk and uncertainty.  The experts make the point that even though there is uncertainty in the models, inaction is unacceptable in the face of the threat posed by climate change.

Another lesson that COVID has revealed, is that inequality results in different experiences for those who face crisis.  COVID in the United States has resulted in a disproportionate effect on those with limited means, particularly black americans resulting in heightened death tolls and economic damages.  Similarly, climate change is affecting poorer countries more than richer countries which has only widened the wealth gap.

The 2020 Iowa Climate Statement draws similar parallels, that what we learn from the current pandemic can help address the climate crisis.  Inaction because of uncertainty only worsens the problem. To prevent inaction, informed and early measures must be taken, otherwise the challenges we face will only become more difficult to deal with.

Iowa Climate Statement 2020 Contributors Participate in a Virtual Press Conference Following Statement’s Release


Nicole Welle | October 8, 2020

Climate experts David Courard-Hauri, Silvia Secchi and Eric Tate gave statements on the main points of the Iowa Climate Statement 2020: Will COVID-19 Lessons Help Us Survive Climate Change and answered questions from the press in a virtual press conference Wednesday morning.

In his statement, Courard-Hauri spoke on the importance of listening to professional public health and climate change experts.

“Unfortunately, in the face of political polarization, some have taken up the strategy of de-legitimizing science, but this distrust in expert guidance has led to preventable deaths and economic damage to working people and businesses,” said Courard-Hauri.

Secchi followed by drawing parallels between the financial costs of the pandemic and climate crisis when immediate action is delayed.

“The cost of not being prepared for the pandemic has far outweighed the costs of prevention and preparation,” said Secchi. “The cost of ignoring climate change is no different. Proactive efforts to address climate change have been proven to save lives and money.”

Tate spoke on the third lesson outlined in the climate statement. His statement involved information on how events caused by climate change and the pandemic disproportionately affect racial minorities and poor communities.

“The disproportionate number of poor people and racial minorities who have suffered severe illness or death from this pandemic has highlighted deep inequities. Inequity reduces resilience, leaving poor communities, particularly communities of color, disproportionately vulnerable to the impacts of climate-related natural disasters, just as they are to disease,” Tate said.

PDF versions of the Iowa Climate Statement 2020, the press release and written statements from all three speakers can be found on the Iowa Climate Statement Page.

Iowa Climate Statement 2020: Will COVID-19 Lessons Help us Survive Climate Change? Will be Released Next Week


Nicole Welle | October 1, 2020

Iowa’s leading climate scientists will release the Iowa Climate Statement 2020: Will Covid-19 Lessons Help Us Survive Climate Change? on Wednesday, October 7 at 10:15 a.m.

Climate experts from across the state have come together to create this year’s climate statement. The statement describes the key lessons learned from our response to controlling the pandemic and how those lessons could improve our efforts to fight the existential threat of climate change. 

The lead contributors will be holding a zoom press conference immediately following the release of the statement, and key speakers will include David Courard-Hauri, Chair of Environmental Science and Sustainability at Drake University, and Silvia Secchi and Eric Tate, Associate Professors of Geographical and Sustainability Sciences at the University of Iowa.

Anyone wishing to tune in for the conference on October 7 can watch it live on the CGRER Facebook page.

Gov. Reynolds Directs CARES Acts Funds to Iowa Biofuel Producers and Renewable Fuel Retailers


Via Flickr

Gov. Kim Reynolds announced Tuesday that $100 million of CARES Act funds will go to several agricultural sectors in Iowa.

Iowa is directing $15.5 million in grants to biofuel producers and $7 million to renewable fuel retailers. Both sectors suffered during the early stages of the pandemic when demand for gasoline dropped, and renewable fuel producers did not receive any funds directly through the CARES Act at that time, according to Iowa Public Radio.

Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, says that he is grateful for the funds since as much as half of Iowa’s ethanol production came to a halt during the worst stages of the pandemic. He hopes that the money will give producers more time to recover and help prevent plants from being permanently closed. As of this week, production has resumed to around 85 to 95 percent of capacity.

Reynolds directed the remaining funds to livestock programs, new farmers, meat processors, fruit and vegetable growers and the schools that buy their produce from local growers.

Connie Mutel Releases Article Comparing Climate Change to the COVID-19 Pandemic


Via Flickr

Author Connie Mutel released “COVID-19: Dress Rehearsal for a Climate in Crisis,” earlier this month.

Connie Mutel is a retired UI Senior Science Writer and climate change activist who recently began to research the parallels between responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change. In the beginning of her article, she discusses the slow response administrations in the United States had to the early warning signs of both crises. She then goes on to explain the importance of taking direct measures to combat the issues sooner rather than later and the ways COVID-19 could help solve Climate Change.

“COVID has shown us what a runaway crisis looks like and feels like. It reveals a lack of predictability,” Mutel said in a Zoom conference Tuesday.

The talk revolved around the intersection of the two issues and potential paths forward. Mutel believes the crises are heavily intertwined and COVID-19 is providing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fast track efforts to combat climate change.

“One crisis magnifies the other. COVID is expressed more in areas with more air pollution.” Mutel said. “Like with COVID, we need global solidarity and collective action to solve climate change.”

Click here to read “COVID-19:Dress Rehearsal for a Climate in Crisis.”

Food, Justice and Environmental Groups Start #BoycottBigMeat Campaign


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Nicole Welle | July 16, 2020

The #BoycottBigMeat campaign launched Tuesday and calls for consumers to boycott meat products from large corporations.

Over 50 organizations are backing the campaign, including Iowa Sunrise Hub, Cedar Rapids, and Iowa Alliance for Responsible Agriculture. Those behind the effort cite a number of issues with large-scale meat producers including worker safety, animal welfare, consumer health and environmental impact, according to a Public News Service article.

While some groups involved in the campaign are focusing on holding corporations accountable for exploiting workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, others are hoping to confront longstanding issues with the negative impacts these businesses have on the environment. Feed sourcing is a leading cause of natural prairie loss in the Midwest, and the chemicals and fertilizers used to treat the fields that grow feed crops are polluting waterways, according to Clean Water Action. Large corporations are also responsible for huge carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.

“We really want to push for policy that helps to transform these rural communities where these operations exist – these industrial operations, meat-packing plants, as well as the concentrated animal feeding operations – that we want to help transition to a better food system,” said Sherri Dugger, executive director at the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project.

The coalition hopes that consumers and policymakers will help promote local producers who sell products considered organic and regenerative that come from pasture-raised, grass-fed animals.

Carbon Emissions Rise as the World Reopens


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Nicole Welle | July 9, 2020

The temporary environmental benefits from the COVID-19 pandemic are coming to an end as economies reopen worldwide.

When the pandemic started in April, businesses closed and transportation dropped as people were forced to stay indoors. This caused a 17% drop in daily carbon emissions when compared to levels recorded at the same time last year. However, by June 11, the drop was only 5%, according to a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change. For climate scientists, the pandemic has made clearer the difficulty of reducing carbon emissions permanently.

“We’re getting to this by stopping all activities, not structural changes, so when people go back to work there’s no reason these emissions wouldn’t go shooting back up,” said Corinne Le Quéré, a professor of climate change science and policy at the U.K.’s University of East Anglia.

Governments would need to encourage low-emissions technologies and encourage the continued use of daily emissions tracking in order to see lasting impacts, according to a Wall Street Journal article. While governments have put more effort into reducing carbon emissions since the 2015 Paris climate accord, emissions have continued to rise. The U.S. has also said it is withdrawing from the deal.

The pandemic has accelerated efforts to move from monthly and yearly reporting to daily monitoring of carbon emissions. Climate scientists hope that these advances will help lead to a better understanding of how governments can move forward in their efforts to reduce emissions in the future.

Former UI Student Marcelo Mena Joins a Virtual TED Conference to Discuss the Pandemic and Climate Change in Chile


Joseph Bolkcom and Nicole Welle | June 24, 2020

Marcelo Mena, a University of Iowa graduate and Chilean environmental science leader, appeared in a TED talk May 29 to give his perspective on the relationships between the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change in Chile.

Mena received his MS in 2003 and a PhD in Environmental Engineering at the University of Iowa in 2007. During his time at UI, he helped organize the beginning of sustainability work on campus and hosted a music program on public radio each Sunday night.

“Marcelo was an amazing student and a great example of speaking up and leading by example,” said CGRER co-director and Mena’s PhD advisor, Greg Carmichael.

After graduating, he returned home to Chile as a faculty member and was recruited to join the Chilean government as the Minster of the Environment.  He then went on the work at the World Bank where he was an advisor to the CEO and Practice Manager, Climate Research Analytics, Climate Change Group.

He is currently serving as chair of the new environmental engineering department at Universidad Andres Bello Santiago, one of Chile’s most prestigious institutions and is considering running for president of Chile.